Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

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Faisal
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Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2016 6:37 pm

Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by Faisal » Mon Dec 31, 2018 8:30 am

What we have now:
1. SPG/Marriott Membership - Aim for Elite status of some sort
2. Travel primarily with Emirates (internationally) and Jet Blue (in the US). Sometimes we use United with Chase rewards points if the flight is cheaper than jet blue. All the Accounts are linked. Family account set up with Jet Blue.
3. Credit Cards current - Me - Chase Freedom - Spouse - Amex Blue and Chase Sapphire

Our Travel
1. One trip internationally every year to visit family
2. One trip to the West Coast to visit family every year
3. One trip down south to visit family every year
4. One trip yearly for the 3 (4) of us locally/internationally

These four trips have been been consistent for the 5 years that we have been married and if i take a posting abroad I will be travelling every 2 to 3 months from Africa/the Middle East/Asia to the US.

What I aim for
1. Hotel perks mainly - have a 2 year old and another on the way. Want to have the ability to get a suite or two rooms with perks without paying an arm and a leg for it.
2. Travel perks - Lounge access as the kids get older and something to sort out extra fees from travel on the North American side of the world. Emirates etc doesn't charge extra for luggage etc.

So the question is what credit cards should I or the Mrs apply for to get the aforementioned perks and maximize the savings on our travel budget?

I have noticed that the Amex Platinum card allows for a lot the stuff I aim for but I am not sure how to use the Amex card to get those perks. Any helpful tips on a strategy to use the Amex card and our other cards would be great!

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:42 am

As a general comment it might helps to have some sense of how much spend you put through your cards and if you have a particular category with a lot of spend.
1. SPG/Marriott Membership - Aim for Elite status of some sort

and

1. Hotel perks mainly - have a 2 year old and another on the way. Want to have the ability to get a suite or two rooms with perks without paying an arm and a leg for it.
SPG/Marriott status less than platinum is essentially pointless (pun sort of intended). You won't even get free breakfast. Essentially to get Platinum you have to spend 50 nights at hotels (this includes award stays). I think holding any of the credit cards gives you a 5 night credit (but they don't stack so holding two cards doesn't get you 10). If you hold the SPG Lux or Ritz card (I don't believe the latter is available for new signups) you can spend $75k on the card in a year and get Plat status but that is a lot of spend and it is quite an opportunity cost compared to other places to put spend. That would at least get you breakfast and executive lounge access. At this point I think Marriott is mostly only worth it for road warriors.

If I were you, you might want to check out Hilton and Hyatt which I think are the only two hotel loyalty programs with value now for the non-road warrior traveler. The Hilton Ascend card $95/AF gives you Hilton gold which gets you free breakfast and executive lounge access if you are upgraded to an executive lounge floor (seems to happen pretty regularly overseas). Spend $15k on it and you get a free weekend cert good for a free night at any Hilton hotel. You also get 6x points at Grocery stores and with $40k in spend on the card in a year you get Hilton Diamond which will get you guaranteed executive lounge access + free breakfast and likely a nominal room upgrade (higher floor/better view) but likely not a suite, unless you ask for it at check-in. The Hilton Aspire card with a $450 fee (but lots of credits to bring that down) will give you Hilton access immediately with no spend requirement. I think it also comes with a free night certificate and the ability to earn another with spend (check out the details on Amex's site). The bottom line is I find free breakfast and executive lounge access to be useful when travelling with family as it does cut down on feeding costs.

Hyatt is another program to check out. Their footprint is small but if it works for you their points are valuable and they probably take the best care of elites of anybody. You can spend your way to elite status with their Chase credit card and I think it is something like $75k (don't recall the details) and they do provide some guaranteed suite upgrades for elites.

Honestly unless you *spend* a lot and/or you are a bit of a road warrior it is going to be hard to generate enough points to cover two hotel rooms for family travel for more than a few days. I seriously consider options like AirBnB and the like once I need more than one hotel room.

Olemiss540
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by Olemiss540 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:45 am

If I were you, I would post on reddit's r/churning community for advice. They do a weekly thread in exactly this format to assist with individual suggestions.
I hold index funds because I do not overestimate my ability to pick stocks OR stock pickers.

UpperNwGuy
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by UpperNwGuy » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:46 am

The sad truth is that most people are unable to earn enough points and miles through their own personal travel to underwrite the cost of a family vacation. Those who travel heavily for business, however, often can, because they're leveraging their employer's travel budget.

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:19 am

UpperNwGuy wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:46 am
The sad truth is that most people are unable to earn enough points and miles through their own personal travel to underwrite the cost of a family vacation. Those who travel heavily for business, however, often can, because they're leveraging their employer's travel budget.
I agree with this with the addition that folks who can move a lot of spend through their cards (either they have a side business, travel for their employer and/or manufacture spend) can do this. That was why I asked how much they spend on their cards.

UpperNwGuy
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by UpperNwGuy » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:23 am

THY4373 wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:19 am
UpperNwGuy wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:46 am
The sad truth is that most people are unable to earn enough points and miles through their own personal travel to underwrite the cost of a family vacation. Those who travel heavily for business, however, often can, because they're leveraging their employer's travel budget.
I agree with this with the addition that folks who can move a lot of spend through their cards (either they have a side business, travel for their employer and/or manufacture spend) can do this. That was why I asked how much they spend on their cards.
I think if you were to talk to a heavy business traveler (a true road warrior), they would tell you that the majority of their points and miles come directly from the airline and hotel loyalty programs, not from the associated credit card spending. In other words, actual flight miles and actual hotel stays are what rack up the most points.

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:46 am

UpperNwGuy wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:23 am
I think if you were to talk to a heavy business traveler (a true road warrior), they would tell you that the majority of their points and miles come directly from the airline and hotel loyalty programs, not from the associated credit card spending. In other words, actual flight miles and actual hotel stays are what rack up the most points.
Undoubtedly but the additional spend on your personal credit cards if allowed is a nice way to juice the returns especially if spend on the card helps you achieve a higher status than your butt in seat or bed activities would warrant. Also don't under estimate with bonus categories what you can earn on travel spend. I am leaving for Europe in a week. I bought a "cheap" business class ticket that cost about $1800. I'll earn about 18.9k BA Avios on the ticket and earned 9k Amex MR points from the 5x on airlines on my personal plat. This is a personal trip but my earn on my Amex card is about half what I get for butt in seat points and 9k MR is much closer in value to 18.9k Avios than the 50-ish% difference would suggest.

Topic Author
Faisal
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by Faisal » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:56 am

Thanks for all the advice. We average 45k to 55k on the credit card with our Sapphire and an additional 5k to 10k on my Freedom.

With regard to the Hyatt that is not an option as the hotels are limited or non existent in the countries i travel to or work in. The sheraton brand is more common in africa and the marriott in asia.

dziuniek
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by dziuniek » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:57 am

Hi,

We spend probably around (guesstimating here) $50k/year thru CCs.

Even at this level, it mostly makes sense to sign up for new cards to get the sign-up bonus.
For Marriott - we got the SPG card which had a 70k points sign up bonus. Just used most of that up in Manhattan a month ago. (2night in AC hotel).

There's 15k points left on the card - so we might use it at some cheapo hotel when the need arises. That being said, I will be cancelling the card before the year is up so I can avoid the annual fee. (got the no-fee first year card).

So... I would open the cards as you need them. It's hard to acquire enough points through regular spend - nor does it make sense. You're better off opening a new card once you churn thru the bonus (sign-up) points.

In 2018, I got the following bonuses:

me. Chase Sapphire Proffered me - $500 USED
DW. Chase Sapphire Preferred DW - $500 USED
me. Chase Biz Ink Cash - $ 500 USED
me. Marriott - 70,000 points sign up bonus Mostly USED
me. Hyatt - 40,000 k sign up bonus - UNUSED
DW. Capitalone Venture -$500 travel bonus UNUSED

2019 plan:
Barclays arrival + $700 travel cred.
Capital One Dining card - $500 credit

Unsure about the rest.

Will be closing several cards after I open the new ones for 2019.
(To avoid the annual Fees) ~ credit be darned :)

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 11:47 am

Faisal wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:56 am
Thanks for all the advice. We average 45k to 55k on the credit card with our Sapphire and an additional 5k to 10k on my Freedom.

With regard to the Hyatt that is not an option as the hotels are limited or non existent in the countries i travel to or work in. The sheraton brand is more common in africa and the marriott in asia.
Given that I would focus on signup bonuses as that is going to be the only way to move the needle on the points you are collecting with that level of spend. You aren't going to get any meaningful Marriott/SPG status from that level of CC spend (unless the 5 night credit throws you over 50 nights) so really the only meaningful hotel status you are looking at is Hilton via their CCs. Hilton has good coverage in Asia at least it has for my travels but no idea on Africa. You might also want to check out the CapOne Venture card and hotels.com: https://www.hotels.com/hotel-deals/capi ... SRC=CAPONE. It won't get you status but 10x points transferable to a number of airlines and you can also stack with hotels.com own awards system.

02nz
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by 02nz » Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:07 pm

The easiest top-level status to get is Hilton, where you can get Diamond status just by getting the Amex Aspire card ($450 AF but some nice perks). If Platinum with Marriott isn't feasible and Hilton's footprint works for you, that's the best way to go. Treatment of Diamonds varies by hotel, and you can't count on a suite upgrade - sometimes you'll get it, sometimes not. My sense is outside the U.S. you have a better shot.

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:14 pm

02nz wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:07 pm
Treatment of Diamonds varies by hotel, and you can't count on a suite upgrade - sometimes you'll get it, sometimes not. My sense is outside the U.S. you have a better shot.
I have probably spent 15-20 nights annually in Hilton's mostly overseas the last three+ years as Diamond and I have yet to get a suite upgrade. I expect if I asked I may have got one but who knows. The only suite upgrade I got was a couple of nights in a Marriott during the low season in southern Europe and that was as an old MR Gold (matched from SPG gold). For Hilton I think the suite upgrades are a combination of being overseas, likely staying only a few nights (I often stay five nights to get fifth night free) and most importantly asking for them (I haven't so far often because I am travelling by myself). It could also be a function that some of the hotels I have stayed in (a couple of Conrads in Japan for example) had very few suites. Whatever the case I certainly would not rely on Diamond to get you anything more than an upgraded room, breakfast and executive lounge access. That said I am happy with what I get from Diamond.

DrGoogle2017
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by DrGoogle2017 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:21 pm

I have gold status on Hilton but I don’t have anymore of the credit card, so I still get to useexecutive lounge. Plus I only play with British Airways Chase VISA card now, every two year I get 2 free business trips to London from LAX. I pay about $2500 for tax for 2 tickets. It’s decent trade off. But this game will soon be stopped when I reach my 70s, I suspect, I won’t travel international much after that. I don’t play with Amex card anymore. They did send me something recently for 100,000 points.

Mister A
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by Mister A » Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:35 pm

For simplicity on personal travel, it's hard to beat Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

After the $300 travel credit, you'll have a $150 annual fee for 3x URs on all travel/dining worldwide and 1.5x URs on all other spend. SPG/Marriot, JetBlue, and United are all transfer partners, and if you can't find value on what you want, you can spend through the Chase portal for a 50% bonus. Chase's trip delay insurance is potentially a nice perk that AmEx doesn't have.

If your travel were overwhelmingly domestic and/or you flew Delta, I might suggest AmEx Platinum and Gold. However, the Gold bonus on dining is U.S.-only, and in my experience, the properties I usually end up wanting at international destinations are not Hilton/SPG and I'm often better off booking independent properties through Hotels.com with my Chase Sapphire Reserve. In addition, the Delta lounge access will require you to fly Delta.

You're also far more likely to hit vendors who don't take AmEx abroad, so having the CSR as a go-anywhere dining card is great.

Then again, only you can crunch the numbers for your spend. The AmEx Gold supermarket bonus is nothing to sneeze at for a family of 3-4, and if you're going to use the various AmEx annual credits that offset the fees, you might come out ahead.

THY4373
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by THY4373 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:29 pm

DrGoogle2017 wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:21 pm
I have gold status on Hilton but I don’t have anymore of the credit card, so I still get to useexecutive lounge. Plus I only play with British Airways Chase VISA card now, every two year I get 2 free business trips to London from LAX. I pay about $2500 for tax for 2 tickets. It’s decent trade off. But this game will soon be stopped when I reach my 70s, I suspect, I won’t travel international much after that. I don’t play with Amex card anymore. They did send me something recently for 100,000 points.
FYI BA raised their carrier imposed surcharges in the last couple of months. It now appears to be a flat whether you leave East or West Coast so for you West Coast folks the raise isn't so bad. You can plan on about $150-200 more in fees per person in business going forward. First is also now more expensive that Business class about $600 more per person from East Cost. You might really want to run the numbers on whether it would make more sense to do a cash back card and just buy the tickets for cash or look at buying premium economy and upgrading on points. As point of reference I paid $1800 to fly BA in business IAD to Athens (cash price). I then used Avios to upgrade to First for 38,000 points. I earned 9000 points back from Amex on $1800 purchase and I'll earn 18.9k Avios from the business class ticket. So basically I am flying First class for $1800 + a net of 10k points. To me that is a much better deal than the Chase Travel Together Certificate.

DrGoogle2017
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Re: Credit Card Rewards strategy focused on Travel

Post by DrGoogle2017 » Mon Dec 31, 2018 4:16 pm

THY4373 wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:29 pm
DrGoogle2017 wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 12:21 pm
I have gold status on Hilton but I don’t have anymore of the credit card, so I still get to useexecutive lounge. Plus I only play with British Airways Chase VISA card now, every two year I get 2 free business trips to London from LAX. I pay about $2500 for tax for 2 tickets. It’s decent trade off. But this game will soon be stopped when I reach my 70s, I suspect, I won’t travel international much after that. I don’t play with Amex card anymore. They did send me something recently for 100,000 points.
FYI BA raised their carrier imposed surcharges in the last couple of months. It now appears to be a flat whether you leave East or West Coast so for you West Coast folks the raise isn't so bad. You can plan on about $150-200 more in fees per person in business going forward. First is also now more expensive that Business class about $600 more per person from East Cost. You might really want to run the numbers on whether it would make more sense to do a cash back card and just buy the tickets for cash or look at buying premium economy and upgrading on points. As point of reference I paid $1800 to fly BA in business IAD to Athens (cash price). I then used Avios to upgrade to First for 38,000 points. I earned 9000 points back from Amex on $1800 purchase and I'll earn 18.9k Avios from the business class ticket. So basically I am flying First class for $1800 + a net of 10k points. To me that is a much better deal than the Chase Travel Together Certificate.
It’s about $4000 per ticket for business class from LAX to London in the summer, high season. If we spend $30,000 per year, max we may get $900 back, assume it’s 3% refund and they are travel related. So I still think I’m ahead. Plus every two years, I get 50k-100k miles when I switch from my husband to mine. So that’s how we ping pong back and forth and get a free travel certificate. I think we can keep doing this until I’m 70. But I don’t want first class, just business class so we can lay flat on our international trip. Plus I like to simplify my life now. No more extra cards that I can’t keep track off. One for Costco for cash back and one for travel overseas. When I’m done traveling, I cancel it and open another one a year later when I need to harvest the 100k rewards. This way, I know for sure, nobody in Europe has my card for fraud case, not especially after my travel.

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